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Conflicts of power, landscape and amenity in debates over the British Super Grid in the 1950s

  • Katrina Navickas (a1)

Abstract

The ‘Super Grid’ network of high-voltage power lines transformed the landscapes of England and southern Scotland in the 1950s. This article examines debates over the siting of pylons, with a focus on the public inquiries into the proposed lines across the Pennines in Lancashire. It brings together archives on electrification from the newly nationalised British Electricity Authority, preservationist groups and local government to reveal deeper insights into processes of local and national decision-making about and popular attitudes to the rural landscape. It uncovers how the public inquiries exposed tensions and differences about the definition of amenity, not just between the electricity industry and preservationists, but also between interests representing urban industrial districts and the National Parks, northern and southern England, and within the preservationist movement. The conflicts over pylons and amenity shows how narratives of landscape preservation were contested and riven with class, region and economic differences in the postwar period.

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1 Hansard Parliamentary Debates, ‘Debate in the House of Commons on the Electricity Bill’, vol. 432, cols 1404–531 (3rd February 1947), <https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1947/feb/03/electricity-bill> [6th September 2018].

2 Hannah, Leslie, Engineers, Managers and Politicians: The First Fifteen Years of Nationalised Electricity Supply in Britain (Basingstoke, 1982), pp. 7, 103; Hannah, Leslie, Electricity Before Nationalisation: A Study of the Development of the Electricity Supply Industry in Britain to 1948 (London, 1982).

3 Nottingham Journal, 24th July 1950, 16th July 1953.

4 The National Archives, Kew (hereafter TNA) POWE 14, British Electricity Authority and Central Electricity Authority records, Ministry of Power and Fuel, 1947–60; TNA COU 1/33, National Parks Commission, Electricity subcommittee records, 1950–5; Museum of English Rural Life Special Collections, University of Reading (hereafter MERL) C/1, archive of the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England, 1950–60.

5 TNA POWE 14/1015, 1017, minutes of public inquiry into the 275 kV line between Blackstone Edge and Carrington/Pennington, 2nd November 1954; TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, 2nd November 1954; MERL C/1/62/90, Stalybridge-Penwortham/Monk Fryston 275 kV line, public inquiry, Oldham, 22nd September 1959.

6 Sheail, John, ‘Power to the People: Power Stations and the National Grid’, in Brassley, Paul, Burchardt, Jeremy and Sayer, Karen, eds, Transforming the Countryside: the Electrification of Rural Britain (Abingdon, 2017), p. 39.

7 Weightman, G., Children of Light: How Electricity Changed Britain Forever (London, 2011); Hughes, Thomas, Networks of Power: Electrification in Western Society, 1880–1930 (Baltimore, 1988); Byatt, I. C. R., The British Electrical Industry, 1875–1914: The Economic Returns to a New Technology (Oxford, 1979); Self, H. and Watson, E. M., Electricity Supply in Great Britain: its Development and Organisation (London, 1952); Baker, John Leon, ‘Planning the Future of the Electricity Supply Industry, 1935–1948’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Birmingham, 1991); Moore-Colyer, R. J., ‘Lighting the landscape: rural electrification in Wales’, Welsh History Review, 23:4 (2007), 7292.

8 Hannah, Engineers, Managers and Politicians; Hill, C. N., An Atomic Empire: A Technical History of the Rise and Fall of the UK Atomic Energy Programme (London, 2013); Zoe Gardner, ‘Landscapes of Power: the Cultural and Historical Geographies of Renewable Energy in Britain since the 1870s’ (unpublished PhD thesis, University of Nottingham, 2008).

9 Luckin, Bill, Questions of Power: Electricity and Environment in Interwar Britain (Manchester, 1990), p. 4.

10 Ibid., p. 179; Field, Gregory, book review, Business History Review, 65:3 (1991), 699701; Nye, David, book review, British Journal for the History of Science, 25:2 (1992), 378–9.

11 Evans, David, A History of Nature Conservation in Britain, 2nd edn (London, 1997), pp. 53–7.

12 Hannah, Engineers, Managers and Politicians, pp. 2, 7.

13 Matless, David, Landscape and Englishness, 2nd edn (London, 2016), pp. 34–5, 71–2, 279.

14 Sheail, John, ‘The “amenity” clause: an insight into half a century of environmental protection in the United Kingdom’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 17:2 (1992), 152–3.

15 Howkins, Alun, The Death of Rural England: A Social History of the Countryside (London, 2003), p. 189.

16 Elson, Martin J., Green Belts: Conflict Mediation in the Urban Fringe (London, 1986); Cherry, Gordon and Rogers, Alan, Rural Change and Planning (London, 1996); Sturzaker, John and Mell, Ian, Green Belts: Past, Present, Future? (Abingdon, 2017).

17 Brassley, Burchardt and Sayer, eds, Transforming the Countryside, p. 8.

18 Sheail, ‘Power to the People’, p. 47; Sheail, ‘The “amenity” clause’, 157; Sheail, J., Power in Trust: The Environmental History of the Central Electricity Generating Board (Oxford, 1991), p. 112. See also Shirley, Rosemary, ‘Cultures of Connectivity: Visual Representations of a Networked Countryside in the Early Twentieth Century’, in Bluemel, Kristen and McCluskey, Michael, eds, Rural Modernity: A Critical Intervention (Edinburgh, 2018).

19 Hansard Parliamentary Debates, ‘Electricity Pylons in Beauty Spots’, House of Lords, vol. 198, cols 546–68 (2nd July 1956), <https://hansard.parliament.uk/Lords/1956-07-02/debates/e6397899-9d14-48e3-9973-73d5db7a5bef/ElectricityPylonsInBeautySpots> [24th August 2018].

20 Hansard Parliamentary Debates, ‘Electricity Bill’, House of Lords, vol. 204, cols 148–92 (30th May 1957), <https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/lords/1957/may/30/electricity-bill>, [24th August 2018].

21 Sheail, ‘The “amenity clause”’, 155; Sheail, Power in Trust, p. 112.

22 TNA POWE 14/1017, list of Bolton County Borough objections, 1953–4.

23 TNA POWE 14/1015, correspondence of district councils to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, June 1954.

24 TNA POWE 14/1015, Ministry of Fuel and Power, schedule, 12th November 1954.

25 TNA POWE 14/1021, minutes of the second inquiry, December 1955.

26 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, November 1954, Speech of Mr Thesiger, QC.

27 TNA POWE 14/1015, note EL 82/16/186.

28 Brimblecombe, Peter, ‘The Clean Air Act after fifty years’, Weather, 61:11 (2006), 312; Evans, History of Nature Conservation, p. 105.

29 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 23.

30 Ibid., pp. 22–3.

31 TNA POWE 14/1017, minutes of the public inquiry, Bolton County Borough objections.

32 TNA POWE 14/1023, minutes of the public inquiry, Tyldesley and Whitworth objections.

33 Hannikainen, Matti, The Greening of London, 1920–2000 (Abingdon, 2016), p. 97.

34 An Advisory Plan, South Lancashire and North Cheshire Advisory Planning Committee, prepared by Nicholas, R. and Hellier, N. J. (Manchester, 1947), p. 70; Matless, Landscape and Englishness, pp. 34–5; Nairn, I., ed., ‘Outrage: special issue’, Architectural Review, 117:702 (1955).

35 Howkins, Death of Rural England, p. 189.

36 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 30; POWE 14/1023, minutes of the public inquiry, pp. 23–4.

37 Hansard Parliamentary Debates, ‘Proposed New Super Grid’, House of Lords, vol. 199, cols 487–513 (31st July 1956), <https://hansard.parliamentuk/Lords/1956-07-31/debates/d1f760b5-ab8d-4b76-8f58-50a6cec294be/ProposedNewSuper-Grid> [24th August 2018].

38 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 41.

39 Dart, Reginald, The Town Plan for Turton (Turton, 1947), in TNA POWE 14/1023, minutes of the public inquiry; Matless, Landscape and Englishness, pp. 82–3.

40 TNA POWE 14/1016, statements to the public enquiry, statement by P. A. Barnes.

41 Sheail, Power in Trust, p. 112.

42 TNA COU 1/33, BEA memorandum, ‘Development of electricity supply in National Park and rural areas’, October 1950; Rosemary Shirley, ‘The Women’s Institute Goes Electric’, in Brassley, Burchardt and Sayer, eds, Transforming the Countryside, p. 143.

43 TNA COU 1/33, Duff's memorandum on meeting with the BEA, 23rd November 1950.

44 TNA COU 1/33, amended version of ‘Development of electricity supply in National Parks and rural areas document’, 1950.

45 Cherry and Rogers, Rural Change and Planning, pp. 127–8.

46 TNA POWE 14/1015, R. Metcalfe to C. Murphy, 12th October 1954; POWE 14/1022, Report of the public inquiry, p. 15.

47 Ingold, Tim, The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill (London, 2000), p. 198; for taskscapes in the Pennines, see Navickas, Katrina, ‘Luddism, incendiarism and the defence of rural taskscapes in 1812’, Northern History, 48:1 (2011), 5973.

48 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 16.

49 TNA POWE 14/1015, H. G. Griffin to the Ministry of Fuel and Power, 27th September 1954.

50 TNA POWE 14/1023, minutes of the public inquiry.

51 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement by P. A. Barnes.

52 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, pp. 10–11.

53 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 30.

54 Climber and Rambler Magazine, vol. 4 (1965), p. 20; Hill, Howard, Freedom to Roam: the Struggle for Access to Britain’s Moors and Mountains (Ashbourne, 1980), pp. 35, 109; see Barnes, P. A., Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted (Sheffield, 1934).

55 This was especially the case in the American context: Carr, Ethan, Wilderness by Design: Landscape Architecture and the National Park Service (Lincoln, NA, 1998).

56 Gardner, ‘Landscapes of Power’, p. 6; see Dehaene, Michiel, ‘A conservative framework for regional development: Patrick Abercrombie’s interwar experiments in regional planning’, Journal of Planning Education and Research, 25:2 (2005), 133–4, which suggests that Abercrombie’s interpretation of ‘wild country’ in regional plans was more elastic than the more codified definition in his Greater London Plan (London, 1945).

57 Lewis, Alan, ‘Planning through conflict: competing approaches in the preparation of Sheffield’s postwar reconstruction’, Planning Perspectives, 28:1 (2013), 2749.

58 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement by P. A. Barnes.

59 Cherry and Rogers, Rural Change and Planning, p. 133; Merriman, Peter, Driving Spaces: A Cultural-Historical Geography of England’s M1 Motorway (Oxford, 2007).

60 TNA POWE 14/1023, report of J. G. Birkett, November 1954.

61 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement by P. A. Barnes; Ingold, The Perception of the Environment, p. 195.

62 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 17.

63 Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 45.

64 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement by P. A. Barnes.

65 Lancashire Evening Post, 22nd January 1955.

66 Bolton Journal and Guardian, 5th November 1954; Bolton Evening News, 28th September, 2 and 3 November 1954; Bolton Standard; Rochdale Observer for this period do not contain any editorials or letters on the Super Grid plans.

67 TNA POWE 14/1023, minutes of the public inquiry; POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 25.

68 Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 55.

69 Carr, T. W., Electric Power Stations (London, 1955), p. 110.

70 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement of Lancashire County Council to the inquiry.

71 TNA POWE 14/1022, report of the public inquiry, p. 21.

72 Sheail, Power in Trust, pp. 141–3.

73 TNA POWE 14/884, public inquiry at Cheltenham, 27th and 28th January 1954.

74 For example, letter to the editor in Birmingham Daily Post, 22nd October 1956.

75 MERL C/1/62/90, minutes of proceedings at a public local inquiry, Town Hall Oldham, 22nd September 1959.

76 MERL C/1/62/90, minutes; Gardener, ‘Landscapes of Power’, p. 6; Crowe, Sylvia, The Landscape of Power (London, 1958).

77 Howkins, Death of Rural England, pp. 189–90; Cherry and Rogers, Rural Change and Planning, pp. 130, 133; Kelly, Matthew, ‘The Nature State in Postwar Britain’, in von Hardenberg, Wilko Graf, Kelly, Matthew, Leal, Claudia and Wakild, Emily, eds, The Nature State: Rethinking the History of Conservation (Abingdon, 2017), pp. 116–17.

78 TNA COU 1/33, minutes of the NPC electricity subcommittee, 11th September 1950.

79 MERL C/1/62/90, Barnes to Griffin, 9th July 1959.

80 TNA POWE 14/1016, statement by P. A. Barnes.

81 Luckin, Questions of Power, p. 179.

82 MERL C/1/62/90, draft statement by P. A. Barnes at the public inquiry, Town Hall Oldham, 22nd September 1959.

83 Greenhalgh, James, Reconstructing Modernity: Space, Power and Governance in Mid Twentieth-Century British Cities (Manchester, 2018), p. 136.

84 Matless, Landscape and Englishness, p. 63.

85 Jay, Stephen, ‘The forces shaping local planning policy on high voltage electricity installations’, Journal of Environmental Policy and Planning, 6:3/4 (2004), 208.

86 Cotton, Matthew and Devine-Wright, Patrick, ‘Putting pylons into place: a UK case study of public perspectives on the impacts of high voltage overhead transmission lines’, Journal of Environmental Planning and Management, 56:8 (2013), 1225; Jones, Christopher R. and Eiser, Richard, ‘Understanding “local” opposition to wind development in the UK: how big is a backyard?’, Energy Policy, 38:6 (2010), 3108.

87 Woods, Michael, ‘Conflicting environmental visions of the rural: windfarm development in mid Wales’, Sociologia Ruralis, 43:3 (2003), 286.

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